Our Top 10 Winter Trout Streams
October 05, 2010
Jump into your neoprenes and head for these top-rated winter trout streams, where hungry holdover browns, brookies and rainbows lurk in deep pools and runs. (January 2007)
Photo by Polly Dean
Many Pennsylvania anglers have found that fishing for winter trout is hotter than ever these days. When the thermometer stays above the freezing mark, or even a little below, a productive day on a Keystone State trout stream can chase the winter blues away.
Here's a look at 10 top trout streams that will make anglers feel as good as if they were sitting beside a roaring fireplace this month:
A few years ago, the Little Schuylkill River was the major rejuvenation story in the Southeast Region. These days, that honor belongs to Saucon Creek in Northampton County.
When biologists from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission surveyed the stream, they found an amazing array of wild brown trout. Based on that survey, a 2.1-mile section of the stream was placed under Delayed Harvest regulations.
One site studied was upstream of the High Street bridge in Hellertown, while a second site was within Saucon Park in Bethlehem. The biologist who performed the survey found nearly 1,400 wild brown trout in those areas, according to Dave Arnold, the PFBC's Area Five fisheries manager.
Saucon Creek is a limestoner of moderate width (40 to 45 feet in the areas surveyed). It is also primarily a fast, shallow stream with a substrate consisting mostly of small-diameter rocks and gravel.
If that sounds like a scientist's description, it actually isn't. I grew up along this stream and have watched it return from its days as an outlet for mine drainage to the Class A trout stream it is today.
Access to Saucon Creek is best at the municipal parks in Hellertown and Bethlehem, but there are also a few secondary road crossings off Route 412.
CLARION RIVER TRIBUTARIES
Kurt Thomas is a guide on the northwest's Clarion River.
"I have watched this river blossom from a polluted, poor fishery into a fantastic river with a strong population of healthy brown trout," Thomas said. "The Clarion is a high-quality fishery for large brown trout. It's possible to connect with fish in the 20-inch range. And indeed, some are much larger."
Thomas credits some of this resurgence to the PFBC's specialized stocking program.
"The state has maintained a program of stocking fingerling brown trout here for many years. Catchable-sized trout are not stocked, and are not necessary, in the Clarion River," he noted. "There is good reproduction of brown trout in the Clarion and several quality tributaries.
Thomas frequently focuses his attentions on the Clarion tributaries.
"Excellent trout fishing exists in the East and West branches of the Clarion River, the catch-and-release, all-tackle section beginning in Johnsonburg extending over eight miles down into Ridgway, and continuing for many miles below the town of Ridgway," he said. "The East Branch Clarion is a tailwater stream. Regulated trout water exists on sections of both these tributaries as well as the catch-and-release water on the main river."
The major access route through the Clarion watershed is Route 949 to Ridgeway. Johnsonburg is where the two branches meet. Take Route 219 toward Wilcox for the West Branch and for the East Branch, state Route 1004 toward Bendigo State Park in Elk County.
Neshannock Creek is a fine freestone stream in western Pennsylvania flowing some 20 miles through Mercer and Lawrence counties. It ranks high on the winter list because local businesses add trout to its waters at Volant, and the stream receives a fall stocking from the PFBC in October.
Fish are stocked by the PFBC from the dam at Volant downstream to the covered bridge at T-476, a three-mile Delayed Harvest, Artificial Lures Only section.
Neshannock Creek crosses under the Route 208 bridge at Volant and then continues through wooded, flatland country. Anglers may park in the Volant town center lot or behind a line of railroad boxcars that serve as tourist shops. Gangs of fly-fishermen will hover around the upper part of the Special Regulations area, but good angling can be enjoyed a few hundred yards downstream.
From the boxcar parking lot, anglers can follow a trail that continues nearly the whole length of the Special Regulations area.
Beneath the milldam at Volant, Neshannock Creek is less than 60 feet wide. The bottom is mostly small rock with a soft base. The stream appears to have been channeled and riprap has been added to bolster the banks along the inside bends. Downstream, above the covered bridge, Neshannock Creek is least 100 feet wide with deeper, longer pools.
Imagine finding a reliable Pocono Mountain freestone stream in winter that contains wild brook and brown trout and also stocked trout.
Tobyhanna Creek in Monroe County fishes amazingly well in winter. Fishermen who get there during a brief thaw liken it to springtime angling. I fish Tobyhanna Creek from the state game lands parking lot near the Pennsylvania Game Commission's maintenance building on Route 423 to beyond the Special Regulations section on the opposite site of the road.
Above Interstate Route 380, much of Tobyhanna Creek is a typical mountain stream with some excellent pocket water. Because of its high elevation, Tobyhanna Lake freezes over each winter when other area impoundments stay open. The frigid water coming out of the dam affects the fishing for some distance below. But once the stream gets through Mill Pond No. 1 and under I-380, it warms enough to make the trout more active.
In the Special Regulations section, the banks of Tobyhanna Creek are sandy with small, smooth stones -- a good winter wading spot. This Special Regulations zone receives a fall stocking, ensuring plenty of trout for the winter.
Access along the middle section of the Tobyhanna is quite good. Between routes 380 and 940, Route 423 is the parallel road. East of I-380, SGL 127 contains numerous parking areas and foot trails lead down to the stream. A one-mile Delayed Harvest, Artificial Lures Only stretch runs from Still Swamp Run downstream to an iron bridge.
dle Creek in western Snyder County is a hot winter fishery for Harrisburg-area anglers. Middle Creek comes from Walker Lake and the tributaries of the North and South branches of Middle Creek and Faylor Lake. Both branches are Approved Trout waters.
However, the section of Middle Creek worthy of winter attention starts at state Route 4007 (Pine Swamp Road) and continues downstream to the boundary of State Game Lands No. 188. Not surprisingly, this is a Delayed Harvest, Artificial Lures Only area.
For the most part, Middle Creek is far from fair-to-middlin' in size. Where the stocking truck pulls into the SGL 188 driveway, the stream is some 90 feet wide. The problem for winter anglers is that this is also thin water unless rain or snowmelt has occurred.
For good winter fishing, I've had to walk one-half up or downstream to find suitable winter holes. Middle Creek has more than its share of hard turns, and I count on the curved banks to collect a few trees or very large limbs in the middle of the flow. The obstructions result in deep eddies and pockets where trout stack up on Middle Creek.
West of Middleburg, this is rural country, and visiting anglers should have plenty of elbowroom this month. Route 552 between Troxelville and Middleburg is the main access road. The Special Regulation area was stocked in October.
LITTLE LEHIGH RIVER
In winter, the Little Lehigh in Lehigh County is as close to guaranteed success as you're likely to find anywhere in the state. Major portions of this stream are full of fish -- an unnatural amount, actually -- and winter fishing in this limestone stream is excellent. Midge fishing at this time of year is legendary.
The main activity on the Little Lehigh begins at the bridge on Fish Hatchery Road and continues downstream to the Route 309 overpass. This is the area of the famous "Hatchery Pool." Anglers gather on both side of the bank to catch trout that seem to be feeding constantly, even in winter.
On the north side of the pool, a riprap wall holds the banks together, while a little farther downstream the bank is steep and slick. Hugging the trees on this bank, adept anglers may dunk flies into the shore-side eddies.
Below the hatchery pool, the stream opens to a wider, flatter flow. Along the south side of the stream, the bank is flat and groomed.
Even in a blinding snowstorm, there's a good chance the hatchery pool area will be crowded. This is where many anglers come to get their winter fishing fix.
I prefer the Delayed Harvest, Fly-Fishing-Only section near the Wild Cherry Lane bridge east of Macungie. There's good access to this section along a footbridge and park path that eventually lead to some nice pocket water. Upstream, above the Wild Cherry Lane bridge, the stream is barely 30 feet across, but quite deep and very good in winter. The section from Wild Cherry down to Mill Race Road bridge was stocked in October.
In May, anglers come from around the world to fish Penns Creek's famous Green Drake hatch. But come winter, the place is practically deserted. The good parts on this central Pennsylvania stream are managed under Special Regulations, so the trout are still there in January.
Penns Creek is wide and long enough to be called a river. Through Union County, the water flows for some 26 miles. Centre County adds some 12 miles to the upper part of the stream, and Snyder and Mifflin counties add 21 more miles before it flows into the Susquehanna River. However, there are few trout in this lower section.
In winter, the place to go is the area west of Weikert in Union County. Between Weikert and Cherry Run, Penns Creek is a wide, beautiful stream. At this time of year, the surrounding mountains may be snowcapped.
No water should be taken lightly when wading in winter, but throughout this section there are places where anglers can cross from bank to bank, depending on the flow. Even upstream of Cherry Run, in the Special Regulations zone, cautious winter wading is possible.
From State College, the typical path is to follow Route 45 east to Route 235 and proceed south. Harrisburg anglers typically follow Route 22/322 to Thompsontown, head north to Route 333 and then take Route 235. Other central Pennsylvania anglers take Route 522 to Beaver Springs and then Route 235. Off Route 235, turn onto state Route 3002 toward Weikert, and continue to the Special Regulations areas on Penns Creek.
At the top of the seven-mile Special Regulations area at Coburn, there are plenty of deep runs and pools that winter trout prefer. Cross the narrow footbridge to gain access to a long trail that goes for a number of miles along Penns Creek. Anglers can get to Coburn by taking state Route 2011 south from Millheim at Route 45.
When your face is feeling stiff from the cold, the name "Quittapahilla Creek" may seem harder to pronounce. But when it's warm outside, Quittapahilla Creek in Lebanon County is well worth a winter visit.
A little less than a mile of this stream, also known as "The Quittie," is under Delayed Harvest, Artificial Lures Only rules. This section runs from Spruce Street Bridge downstream to the lower boundary of the nature park.
In the Special Regulations area, the stream narrows to 30 feet. In many places, steep rock ledges are part of the bank.
The Special Regulations area is in a municipal park, but except for hikers, it doesn't see a lot of winter action, particularly not on weekdays. This area, with its very deep pools, contains some large trout. Old mill structures and their accompanying dams have created some monstrous holes in this stream, but its flow is surprisingly quick.
Parking is available at the municipal park at Annville, west of Lebanon. A walking trail parallels the stream through the park. The Delayed Harvest section runs from Spruce Road downstream to Buchman Road off Route 422. There is good parking at Buchman Road, but room for only one or two vehicles directly on Spruce Road.
LITTLE PINE CREEK
A freestone stream worth working during warmer winters is Little Pine Creek in Lycoming County.
Little Pine Creek runs approximately 14 miles through Lycoming County down to the junction of Pine Creek at Waterville. However, the best winter fishing is in the one-mile Special Regulations zone above Little Pine Lake. Don't neglect the area above and below the Delayed Harvest area. There are a lot of fish in Little Pine Lake and they often travel upstream into the creek when there is enough water in the marshy thoroughfare.
For the best winter fishing, anglers should concentrate on the Special Regulations area between the confluence of Otter Run downstream to Schoolhouse Hallow, which was stocked in October. There is some wide, deep water in this stretch and also some narrow, fair
ly shallow bottom as well.
To reach the stream, take Route 44 north from Jersey Shore to Waterville. At the T in Waterville, turn right onto state Route 4001. Follow this road past the state park and the lake. Along this rural route, there is parking less than 20 yards from the stream.
The Special Regulations section on Fishing Creek is only one-half mile long, but because it contains plenty of holdover trout, anglers should fish every inch of it. The hot stretch runs through the upper part of the town of Benton off Route 239.
Fishing Creek thickens as it flows through Benton and becomes wide and deep as it reaches a dam nearly at the end of the town. However, the Special Regulations area is quite manageable for winter fishing as it contains a number of moderate pools and some excellent runs.
Access to the stream is off the main street in what is best described as "back alleys."
In addition to the Special Regulations area, work the water below Benton along Route 487. There are numerous parking areas and even a covered bridge at Stillwater, with good pools that contain holdover trout in winter.
For more information regarding Pennsylvania's excellent winter fishing opportunities, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's headquarters in Harrisburg at (717) 705-7800. For current conditions on trout streams, check the agency's Web site at Fish.State.PA.US
For accommodations across the state, call 1-888-VISIT-PA. Because some roads can be covered with ice or snow in winter, traveling anglers should call PennDOT at 1-888-783-6783 for current highway conditions.